Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of patient compliance on a program of watchful waiting in cases of small abdominal aortic aneurysms and to document the proportion of patients who become prohibitive operative risks during follow-up. Study Design: A retrospective review was conducted at a regional military veterans medical center. The subjects were 101 male military veterans with abdominal aortic aneurysms measuring less than 5 cm who did not have medical contraindications to operative repair. The main outcome measures were (1) the proportion of patients who missed three scheduled radiologic tests in a row despite written notifications mailed to their homes and (2) the proportion of compliant patients who had medical illnesses and became prohibitive operative risks during follow-up. Results: During a follow-up (mean ± SEM) of 34 ± 2 months, 69 patients (69%) were fully compliant with the watchful waiting program and underwent a mean of 4.5 ± 0.3 radiologic tests. There were no abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures in this subgroup. Twenty-five patients (36%) had indications for abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, and 28 (41%) have not met the criteria for repair. Sixteen (23%) of the 69 compliant patients developed prohibitive medical risks during follow-up; eight (50%) of these 16 patients died, all of the causes unrelated to their abdominal aortic aneurysms. Thirty-two (32%) of the 101 study subjects were noncompliant with the watchful waiting program. Twenty-seven (84%) of the noncompliant patients did not keep any scheduled appointments, and five (16%) were lost after one or two examinations. Three of the noncompliant patients experienced documented abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture, and it is suspected in a fourth. Direct contact was made with 28 (88%) of these patients or their families; all acknowledged having received written notifications regarding their watchful waiting program tests and had decided not to continue with surveillance for a variety of socioeconomic reasons. Between the 69 compliant patients and the 32 noncompliant patients, there were no differences with respect to mean age (70 ±1 years vs 73 ± 2 years), distance from home of record to the hospital (62 ± 14 miles vs 73 ± 23 miles), or abdominal aortic aneurysm size at initial detection (3.75 ± 0.5 cm vs 3.8 ± 0.5 cm). Conclusions: Watchful waiting programs are imperfect and highly reliant on the motivation levels and means of the individual patients. Watchful waiting is reasonable among compliant patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms, inasmuch as fewer than half will meet the criteria for intervention within a mean of 3 years. Approximately one fourth of these patients will have medical contraindications to abdominal aortic aneurysm repair during follow-up, and many of these will die of causes other than abdominal aortic aneurysm rupture. In our experience, one third of candidates for watchful waiting programs are unable to participate and are at risk of rupture. These patients need special attention so that the reasons for their noncompliance can be determined, and they may be candidates for earlier intervention.